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BRATHWAITE MEMOIRS RECOUNT MANY JOBS ACCOMPLISHED.

Byline: Amy Raisin Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - Louis Brathwaite - assigned classified duties in the U.S. Air Force, a leader in the Santa Clarita Valley, and a whiz with woodwork and mechanics - made it a point to finish the projects he started.

One week before the 68-year-old died of a heart attack in November, the father of three, who grew up in a hard-scrabble New York neighborhood and had to fight for his place in the world, finished his memoirs, titled ``Black Mans Job, White Mans Job.''

The book, published locally this year, earned its title after a 1963 conversation Brathwaite, recently promoted to supervisor, had with one of the men who worked for him at Edwards Air Force Base.

``A white man should have this job,'' the employee said of Brathwaite's position.

In his memoirs he recalled that he did not punch the man, but reasoned with him. ``Is this a black man's job or a white man's job?'' Brathwaite asked. ``It must be a black man's job ... because I'm a black man and I have the job.''

Brathwaite encountered racial injustice from childhood - one teacher accused the 10-year-old of cheating after scoring highly on an IQ test - but never let it run him down, said Mary, his wife of 33 years.

``Let's face it, he did stand out in a crowd,'' she said of her handsome, 6-foot-2-inch husband. ``This was a very smart man who did not want others to dictate how he behaved.''

His behavior, guided by a sense of commitment, honesty and frankness, earned him many respected positions in the Santa Clarita Valley: planning commissioner from 1988 to 1998, and a longtime board member of the William S. Hart Union High School District, the Boys & Girls Club and the Committee on Aging.

But the artist, craftsman and tenor singer - he impressed the Italians in his youth with his operatic voice - always made time for his family.

Mary describes their brood as a ``his, hers, ours,'' - each brought a daughter into the marriage, then they had a son together in 1972. Today, she chuckles at predictions that their union - African-American man, white woman - wouldn't last.

After decades of life with him, Mary still does not know the specifics of what Brathwaite did on his frequent trips for the Air Force.

``During all the years that we were married he never told me where he was or what he was doing,'' said Mary, 62, who lives in the couple's Saugus home with two cats she acquired after her husband's death. ``We had a special programmed phone; we could call his office, but we never knew the number.''

Remaining true to the confidentiality the government required, Brathwaite's book is sometimes vague regarding his classified years. But the vivid recollections of family, struggling for equality and his commitment to the Santa Clarita Valley make up for the sparse Air Force details.

Born to parents of Ethiopian, West Indian, American Indian and Caucasian descent, Brathwaite grew up in a mixed-race area of New York City known as Lower Washington Heights - where the gifted child played handball with future tennis great Althea Gibson and stickball with future baseball Hall-of-Famer Willie Mays.

In 1952, not long after his mother had buried her oldest son and husband within 30 days of one another, Brathwaite joined the Air Force, where he began a successful career as an aircraft hydraulics specialist.

The year before he joined the Air Force, Brathwaite, a member of the Naval Reserve Squadron, Fleet Air Service Squadron, encountered his first slice of military racism - from two African-American men.

Spotting him in his dress whites, the two men demanded to know who he was, where he was from, what he did. Brathwaite explained he was a hydraulics specialist.

``You lie! No Negro seamen live over there,'' the men countered. ``No Negro seamen are aircraft specialists, and you're out of uniform in those green stripes.''

Friend Carl Boyer, a former Santa Clarita mayor and councilman, edited and published the book for the man he met 30 years before. He admits that the project revealed many aspects about Brathwaite's life that the part-time publisher never knew.

But the frustrating, touching and personal revelations only reinforced Boyer's respect for his friend.

``I'm not sure (the book) had a whole lot of impact on my opinion of him because I think that had already been developed,'' Boyer said. ``He had to be twice as good at everything to get recognized because he was black.

``But if you asked him to get involved, he would. He would set a good example by getting done what he said he would do,'' he said. ``People saw that and recognized his leadership.''

Boyer added that the title, ``Black Mans Job, White Mans Job,'' was a source of debate between the two - as a publisher, Boyer insisted on placing an apostrophe in the word ``Mans,'' but Brathwaite was adamant to leave it out.

``He felt it represented street talk without the apostrophe,'' Boyer said. ``He insisted that it be that way.''

To purchase a copy of the book, which costs $16.95, contact a local book store or call Boyer at (661) 259-3154.

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(color) Louis Elcania Brathwaite
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 4, 2002
Words:869
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